Friday, August 31, 2007

The spirit of Lionel Hutz lives on!

My friend Jeremy alerted me to this item on IMDB's gossip page on Tuesday:
A 33-year-old mechanic has been arrested in connection with the robbery of Kirsten Dunst's New York hotel suite. Dunst's penthouse at the Soho Grand was broken into on August 9. The gang stole designer bags, $2,500 in cash, credit and ID cards, two digital cameras, a cell phone and an iPod music player. James Jimenez, 33, was arrested on Sunday and charged with burglary and grand larceny. Police believe Jimenez was the accomplice of Jarrod Beinerman, who was arrested last week. Jimenez's lawyer, John Bostany, tells the New York Post, "I know James has the deepest respect for Spider-Man and would never want anything to happen to Spider-Man's girlfriend."

Bostany added, "Of course, if Spider-Man had shown up in time to thwart Mr. Beinerman and Mr. Jiminez's dastardly scheme, my services wouldn't have been required in the first place. Now, if you'll excuse me, a certain senator from Idaho needs my help." Bostany then leaped out a window and fell to his death, apparently unaware that he didn't possess the superhuman power of flight.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

tribute

Last month some coworkers and I paid some sort of tribute to Ingmar Bergman in a series of interoffice e-mails the day after he died. We were just being sarcastic and trying to take our mind off potential layoffs the week after our newspaper was sold to a smaller company, but one of the coworkers edited the e-mails, a la Jefitoblog's Chartburn series, for a blog posting of his own. Some film buffs who left comments appreciated the humor, some didn't. All I know is that when I die I hope someone, somewhere, says of me, "I don't get it. Then again I never get your jokes." Because until that person gets your jokes, you live on, albeit in a very frustrated piece of his or her heart.

"Shake that, shake that booty, let me go"

That last post was a result of me getting sidetracked from my original goal, which was to compare the lyrics of Sly & the Family Stone's 1974 song "Loose Booty" as printed in the liner notes of their recently reissued album Small Talk and in the CD booklet of the album's Japanese import, which I bought at Tower Records in Atlanta back in '96.

I first heard "Loose Booty" in May of '95, and sometime in '96 I discovered that the opening line was "Shadrach Meshach Abednego," possibly that summer when I first heard the Beastie Boys' "Shadrach," which samples "Loose Booty." But according to the lyrics in Small Talk's Japanese liner notes, the opening line is:

Shake that, shake that booty, let me go

Put the booty right up front, Japan! I like the way you think. In general I'm not very good at hearing lyrics correctly the first time, and if they're printed in a CD booklet I forget again and again to look at them when I'm confused about a particular line. And if I see the lyrics to a song I've known since I was a child but the real words don't match up with the ones I've been singing since 1981, see ya later, real lyrics. I've given those fake lyrics a loving home in my brain too long to abandon them now. Here's the first verse of "Loose Booty," Japanese style:

Well, when you're tryin' to flee from any fakin' grin
Tell you what to do, how to bring the money in
Find yourself some rich dude, let it all hang out
Get into some dancing, do what it's all about


Ha ha, hee hee! Oh, you crazy English-to-Japanese-to-English interpreter—those can't be the right words. "Any fakin' grin"? Good one.

But you tried, and that's what matters. C'mere so I can give you a condescending pat on the back. Now let's look at the official lyrics:

When you're tryin' to flee from
Any fakin' grin
Tell you what to do fun
Get in the frame of mind I'm in
Find yourself some room to
Let it all hang out
Get into some dancin'
Do what it's all about


See, Japan? You were way off with your ... wait a second ... "any fakin' grin" is correct. And Sly's "tell you what to do fun" lyric is something I would've laughed at you for passing off as real if you'd used it first. I guess I owe you—

No! Never apologize, Robert. Remember Pearl Harbor. Use that anger. After all, the greatest generation won't be around to use it much longer, so it's up to you—I mean, me—to keep the flame of hate burning for them. (Mental note: Once this post is finished, buy a brand-new Honda Accord and drive it into a tree. That'll show 'em.)

Here's the second verse in the Japanese CD's booklet:

I can be confusin', any given day
If you feel like losin', get on, find the way
Stuff will be amazin', here is all you do
How minutes turn in days in doing what I do


"Stuff will be amazin'"? Stuff is amazing, Japan. The Bible says so, but since you're already unfamiliar with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Jesus's wisecracking uncles, why should I bother to tell you the exact book and chapter where you can find the quote? (Fine, I'll give you a hint—Book of Fallopians, somewhere in the middle.)

Now the original lyrics:

Life can be confusin'
Any given day
And if you feel like losin'
Get on out the way
Results will be amazin'
Here's all you do
Minutes turn to days in
Doin' what I do


I'm losing patience here. Sly, if you don't throw me a bone soon I'm going to write a biopic and pitch it to Cuba Gooding Jr.

Do I have your attention now? His dad was the lead singer of the Main Ingredient around the same time you were at your peak. He could probably fake your stage moves well enough. It's in his blood. So don't think my threat can't become reality. Mr. Daddy Day Camp will play you on the big screen if you cross me.

Here's the final verse from the land of the rising sun:

Now I got to get on, see you in the mind
I want to stay your friend, oh, leave the blue behind
Only till you send me, watch me, all you're free
Feel good to relax it, shake it on like me


Japan, this is Sly Stone you're interpreting. He's a great lyricist. And in his heyday, refrigerator-magnet poetry didn't exist. All you're presenting here is jibber-jabber. Sly, please show these naive islanders how it's done:

Now I got to get on
See you in the mind
Don't want to see you fret on
Leave the blue behind
You owe it to yourself and
Plus and all is free
Feels good to relax and shake it off like me


"Don't want to see you fret on"? "You owe it to yourself and / Plus and all is free"? What the hell does any of that mean?!

I give up. You win, Japan. I mean, you already conquered American culture in the 1980s with your cars and your electronics and your huge corporations like Sony, which bought out CBS Records and subsidiary labels like Epic Records, which of course Sly and the Family Stone used to be on. And now Sony is reissuing Sly's albums with brand-new liner notes and reprinted lyrics and ...

Oh. Muh. Guh.

I've been had.

Will the real Sly Stone lyrics for "Loose Booty" please stand up? Do you even exist? I really am going to have to listen to the song closely for once just to make sure the Small Talk reissue's lyrics are correct. Proofreading isn't high on the list of record labels' priorities these days. Maybe that's because just trying to stay alive in the age of declining CD sales is the top priority.

I have to hand it to you, Japan. It would be an honor to receive a condescending pat on the back from you. Plus I paid full price to see Sony's Spider-Man 3 back in May, and I didn't get my money's worth. Then again, Sony spent something like $400 million just to get that bloated sequel into theaters, and it'll take a long time for them to earn a profit from it.

Let's just call it even, shall we? I need to wrap this up and get down to the nearest Honda dealership.

Sly's back.

"I do regular things a lot," he says. "But it's probably more of a Sly Stone life. It's probably ... it's probably not very normal."

News of Vanity Fair's interview with Sly Stone for its August issue appeared in early July, I think. I meant to write about it at that time and tie it in with what you were originally going to see below, but now that's a separate post. (Confused? I feel for you.) So pretend it's still early July for a second ...

HEY, SLY STONE IS BACK!

Okay, now you say, "Wow, that's big news, Robert!" It sure is! And you heard it here first!

Yes, Sly Stone is back, and not just for an odd Grammy Awards appearance like the one he made last year. The VF article mentions the trainwreckiness of that appearance, which was meant to be a full Sly and the Family Stone reunion in the planning stages but ended up featuring the Family Stone minus one (former bassist Larry Graham called in sick at the last minute) vamping behind current music stars like Maroon 5 and Will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas, plus older rockers like Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.

It was essentially a commercial for Epic/Legacy's Different Strokes by Different Folks, a remix/covers album featuring Will.i.am, Maroon 5, and Tyler, among others, recording their versions of the Family Stone's hits over huge chunks of the original songs. Originally released in Starbucks stores in July 2005—and given one of the angriest reviews I've ever seen on allmusic.com, whose writers generally adopt an encouraging tone of "You'll get 'em next time, slugger!" when they don't like an album—it was rereleased with two bonus tracks on February 7, 2006, the day before Sly's crowded Family reunion at the Grammys. When the new edition of Different Strokes came out, allmusic.com's original angry review was replaced with one by Stephen Thomas Erlewine, one of the site's more evenhanded critics.

There was no way to tell that the Family Stone was onstage at the Grammys that night. There were a few lingering shots of keyboardist Rose Stone, Sly's sister, and brief glimpses of drummer Greg Errico, but that's it. Trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, saxophonist Jerry Martini, and guitarist Freddie Stone weren't given any camera time as far as I could tell, not even when Sly appeared near the end of the tribute sporting a blond Mohawk and huge sunglasses. He mumbled his way through parts of "I Want to Take You Higher" and played a few notes on his synthesizer, but right when it looked like his old confidence was returning, he walked to the front of the stage, pointed the microphone at the audience, sang "baby baby baby," then waved and made his exit. Sly Stone's comeback lasted all of two minutes.

It was definitely him onstage that night, but it was hard not to feel like you were seeing a ghost (or a robot). At that point it'd been about 23 years since Sly had released an album, the underrated but still somewhat dull Ain't But the One Way, and 13 years since he'd last made a notable public appearance, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony honoring Sly and the Family Stone. But Sly didn't perform with the band at the January 12, 1993, ceremony, and according to Martini, he wouldn't even make eye contact with some of them.

Sly was assumed by many to be a recluse the past quarter-century, the Howard Hughes of R&B legends. Others thought he'd finally fried his brain from too many drugs in the '70s and '80s or that he'd died sometime in the '90s. But in Vanity Fair the man otherwise known as Sylvester Stewart gives his first interview in over 20 years and says he's ready to record new songs. (He's already been touring Europe this summer with a new version of the Family Stone. He looks sort of like a turtle these days, but that alternately inspiring and chilling voice of his is still intact, if not quite as powerful as before.) If you're a fan it's easy to say, Why record new songs? Sly's been gone for 25 years, and it's not like the last 6 of his recording career produced a lot of great music.

It's true. I bought 1976's Heard Ya Missed Me, Well I'm Back as an import back in college and sold it a year later. Sly bottomed out on that album, but Back on the Right Track (1979) and Ain't But the One Way (1982 ... or '83—I've seen both years listed in various places) each have their moments, including the best Sly and the Family Stone song not penned by Sly, Ain't But the One Way's "Ha Ha, Hee Hee," written by saxophonist Pat Rizzo. Its lyrics can be interpreted as an acknowledgment of Sly's downhill slide and a prediction of his early retirement. With Sly singing Rizzo's words, it's almost as if he's delivering the eulogy at his own funeral. "Ha Ha, Hee Hee" includes this eye-opening verse:

Ha ha, hee hee
Nothing to do
You beat the genius in you
But who cares if you are through
Or do
You'll never miss it

And he didn't seem to miss it, at least not until recently. There were rumors in 1995, the year I became a fan, that he was recording a new album, but nothing surfaced. Like I said, it's easy for fans like myself to cringe at the thought of new songs being written long after the fire is assumed to have died out, but since those last three albums left a lot to be desired, it's not like this is the equivalent of the Beatles holding a press conference in 1979 to announce that they're reuniting to record a better swan song than Abbey Road. I still haven't heard Sly's one official solo album, 1975's High on You, except for the songs "I Get High on You" and "Crossword Puzzle," both of which are strong enough and funky enough to warrant a High on You reissue from Sony/Legacy, which rereleased every Sly and the Family Stone album up through 1974's Small Talk back in the spring. Sony/Legacy's logic is that the original version of the Family Stone broke up after that album, therefore the "classic" period ended at that point. Maybe so, but it wouldn't have hurt to reissue every album Sly made for Epic Records back in the '60s and '70s, including High on You and Heard Ya Missed Me, Well I'm Back. I'm sure some eager rock journalist out there would've been happy to write the liner notes for either reissue.

Sly's new songs could turn out to be a waste of time, and he probably won't be able to reunite the original Family Stone in its entirety, but this is Sly Stone we're talking about. He's a towering figure in rock and soul history. And he's still here with us on earth, even if he lives on a different planet altogether in his mind. I'm willing to listen to whatever he ends up recording.

Below is a Sly and the Family Stone medley from ABC's Music Scene, probably from the fall of '69. The band performs parts of "Dance to the Music," "Hot Fun in the Summertime," "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey," and "I Want to Take You Higher." I especially love the reaction of the girl in the audience at the 3:55 mark during "Hot Fun." Sly and the Family Stone's music tends to have that effect on people, even today.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Now we know why she left.

"Steve M" left a comment at JasonHare.com two weeks ago that mentioned Daryl Hall & John Oates's video for 1973's "She's Gone," one of their first big hits and still a great song. I use the term "video" loosely, however, because videos from the '70s don't look anything like videos from the '80s, after the creation of MTV made everyone try a lot harder.

I found it impossible to turn away from the "She's Gone" video, and that's saying something, because most videos or movie trailers that I see on YouTube, even the ones that bring back memories of my childhood, can only hold my attention for about a minute. I just don't like watching videos on my computer. Then again, I sit at an uncomfortable desk at home. And I don't have Wi-Fi, so don't say, "Move to the couch, fool."

"She's Gone" really is something else. We see an eyebrow-free Daryl Hall in his androgynous "Ziggy Stardust impersonator" phase, practically nodding off during his close-ups (because he's also a heroin addict impersonator) and not even bothering to lip-synch some of his lines. We also see John Oates in a sleeveless tuxedo shirt; by the end of the video he's put the penguin in "penguin suit."

I love how the duo seem to be on the set of a public-access "community views"-type talk show. This week's topic
: "Abandoned luncheonettes: Should we earmark them for historical preservation or blow them up real good in lieu of a Fourth of July fireworks display?" (Next week's topic: "Adult education: Oh yeah! Oh yeah!") The appearance of Hall & Oates's very special unholy guest makes you realize they are in on the joke, but I’m not sure if I laughed for the right reasons.

See for yourself ...

Monday, August 13, 2007

"You said it wasn't art / So now we're gonna rip you apart"

Recently at Jefitoblog I wrote about what it was like to be young, white, and rap-friendly in the late '80s and early '90s, when hip-hop began its invasion of the mainstream. I just remembered that in 1987, when I was in fifth grade, I wrote a rap song called "I'm Great." It's a cryin' shame that I can't regurgitate the lyrics of the verses for you, but I do remember the chorus:

I'm great and I know it
I'm not afraid to show it
I'm great and I know it
This time I won't blow it

"Know," "show," and "blow" rhyme, see? Rapping is easy. Anyone can do it. Especially 11-year-old white kids who were introduced to it one year earlier thanks to MTV, as opposed to mid-'70s block parties in the Bronx hosted by DJ Kool Herc.

I do appreciate Bob Odenkirk's tribute to my rap songwriting skills in the following Mr. Show sketch. Big ups, Big O.



Skip ahead to the 3:50 mark if you only want to see Odenkirk rap. But if you decide to view the whole thing and then want to see the first half of this two-part sketch, click here.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Let's review a concert!

Wait. I forgot—I hate crowds and I'm kind of claustrophobic. Hmm ... okay, change of plan: instead of going to a concert and then reviewing it, let's stay home and review a bootleg CD of a 20-year-old concert instead. That's right—no visuals, just audio. Who are we gonna hear but not see, me? The Replacements, that's who!

I recently downloaded* a concert by the Replacements from July 23, 1987, at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. The 'Mats, as they're called by some fans, are one of my favorite bands. Paul Westerberg is one of the greatest lyricists of all time, and his melodies combine the best of rock and pop conventions. They never made a bad album. Sure, there are misses in addition to the hits on each of their seven albums, but the Replacements were never caught looking.

They had a reputation for being an amazing band in concert ... if they could keep their shit together. The Replacements were heavy drinkers (a less charitable person might call them "raging alcoholics"), and, well, sometimes drunk people are fun to be around, but usually only if you're drunk yourself, and sometimes they're a huge pain in the ass,
especially if you're sober. On July 23, 1987, the Replacements were more the latter than the former.

But I wasn't there, of course. I was 11 at the time and spending a week at my grandparents' house in Douglas, Ga. Maybe if I had been drunk before I listened to this concert it would've helped. But wouldn't you know it, I forgot to shotgun some vodka before I put on the headphones, so the fact that Westerberg kept forgetting the lyrics and the band kept trying to cover songs like "Rebel Rebel" and "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)" only to watch them fall apart a minute later didn't help. (The unofficial bootleg of the show is called God, What a Mess.)


Last summer Jefitoblog offered a 'Mats concert from July 27, 1987, where they sounded even worse, especially Westerberg, who seemed to be shredding his vocal cords while missing most of the notes. Bad month? Maybe. Trouble breaking new guitarist Slim Dunlap into the fold? I don't know. At one point during the July 23 show a concertgoer standing near the bootlegger's tape recorder can be heard asking her friend, "Are you having a good time?" I couldn't hear a response. At another point a fan yells, "Fuck you, Paul!" His friend tells him he shouldn't say things like that. The fan disagrees ("They like it!").

When I go to concerts I like to sing along. I do it quietly, because no one paid to hear my voice, but it's a big thrill when I look around the room and see everyone else singing too; I am one with the crowd, and we are one with the band. I don't think anyone wants to hear an album reproduced onstage note for note, even one of their favorites, but I am usually curious how certain songs will translate live without the help of studio magic. I don't mind if a singer wants to change the way he performs a song in concert, but I do like it when he sticks to the script, i.e. the words that are in the songs that are on the albums. The words that fans have memorized just by falling in love with the songs and playing them over and over again. They've made an emotional connection with those songs and often the lyrics themselves. Like I said, Westerberg is one of the greatest lyricists there ever was or ever will be. Here's an example of his talent, from 1985's "Bastards of Young":

The ones who love us best
Are the ones we'll lay to rest
And visit their graves on holidays at best
The ones who love us least
Are the ones we'll die to please
If it's any consolation I don't begin to understand them

Those lyrics hit me like a truck five years ago, even though I first heard "Bastards of Young" in 1993 when I received the album Tim for Christmas. Maybe it was the death of my grandmother in '97 that really drove those lines home once I rediscovered "Bastards." Now that I live in Chicago I only get to visit her grave once a year, when I come home for Christmas. This Christmas I'll be visiting my grandfather's grave as well; he passed away in January. I don't mean to get sappy, but unconditional love, whether from grandparents or parents or any other family member, is the greatest gift any of us will ever receive.

Alright, back to talkin' about drunk people! Westerberg says in the documentary Come Feel Me Tremble (2003) that the reason he has trouble remembering the words to his songs in concert, even now, is because he has ADD, not because he's drunk or high. Well, I can believe that now that he's sober, but in the two concerts I've heard from July of '87, he definitely sounds drunk. He calls the lighting guy at the Beacon Theatre a moron at one point, which elicits laughs and applause from the audience, but it just made me wince. A drunk lead singer who can't finish his songs, who makes up lyrics on the spot in front of paying customers, comes across like an even bigger asshole when he accuses the tech guy of doing a sloppy job.

But the audience at the Beacon seems to be almost as drunk as Paul (and possibly Tommy, Chris, and Slim), so they don't mind too much. They don't sound like they're paying that much attention either. There's lots and lots of talking near the tape recorder's microphone, and the cheers that accompany the beginning of songs like "I Will Dare" or "Black Diamond" quickly die down once the audience realizes the band's going to stumble through another one. I've heard lots of Lemonheads bootlegs where the band takes five or six songs to hit their stride, but once they do, their momentum is never lost. Not so with the two Replacements bootlegs from July of '87. However, I do have a bootleg from July of '85, when Bob Stinson was still in the group, that shows what the Replacements were really capable of in concert, even when they'd had a few—but not a few too manyto drink. Shit, Shower & Shave, a bootleg from 1989's Don't Tell a Soul tour, is also worth tracking down.

And it's not like there aren't high points in the July 23 show: the covers of "Sweet Home Chicago" and Elvis Presley's "I Can Help" are noteworthy, and the band gets through Hootenanny's "Within Your Reach" and Tim's "Waitress in the Sky" without crashing and burning. As far as crowd chatter goes, the best exchange begins with the guy who can't believe the Replacements covered a Bangles song, "September Gurls
." He's corrected by a female fan who informs him that it's originally a Big Star number. The guy's response is predictably, beautifully male: "I know, but it's a Bangles tune." Never admit a woman has bested you in the area of music-geek trivia! (As soon as this guy finishes digging a nice hole for himself in front of the more knowledgeable female fan, another guy yells "'Freebird'!" Wouldn't be a concert without it, I suppose.)

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning of the

... You know what? In the tradition of the Replacements' Beacon Theatre performance, I'm gonna be sloppy and not finish this concert review. Like my favorite midwestern band, I want to be a lovable loser. Besides, the audio on the Beacon bootleg isn't very good, and why would anyone want to read a review of a concert the reviewer didn't attend, and who does this reviewer think he is anyway?! Besides, tonight I can't hold a pen ... or type on a keyboard ... or keep typing, I mean. Whatever. Shut up. Yeah, fuck you, me! But I mean that in the best possible way. Goodnight, everybody!

I'll leave you with this write-up of the Replacements from a 1987 issue of Creem:

These guys get a bad rap. One day they might be drunk; next day, not so drunk. One day, great onstage; next day, not so, with only moments of greatness. People say they're "the bad boys of rock." If they were boffing 12-year-old girls and doing tons of drugs and selling millions of recordsinstead of going back after a show to call their girlfriends, making about as much as they'd make in a factory by having fun, being mischievous but basically kind-hearted, and not selling many records but actually being as honest in their own way as John Lennon was in histhey'd be revered. Still, the music's what will matter in the end.

* Thanks to PaulWesterberg.net for the link to the 7/23/87 show in the first place, and Hidden Track for the show itself.